While a traditional library is perhaps the oldest formal information resource available, the manifestation of libraries has evolved dramatically over the past few decades. In many cases within mathematics, as for other fields of scholarship, buildings housing paper publications have given way to online collections of downloadable documents. While this increased access is not perfect—not all material is readily available to all researchers, and search tools vary from site to site—widespread digitization has made it easier for many to access the mathematical literature. Overall, a much greater proportion of the mathematical literature is available to more people than at any time before. The research libraries, scholarly societies, and other players that curate and steward this material continue to grapple with issues, such as long-term preservation of digital materials, but it is fair to say there exists a fairly comprehensive, distributed “digital library” for mathematics offering a much improved but not fundamentally different version of what existed in the time of printed books and journals.
The committee has thus taken the term library in its charge to mean a system that accumulates and shares knowledge, rather than the more traditional library that houses documents, either digital or physical. The committee’s focus has been on functionality that can meet the needs of mathematicians facing a rapidly expanding and diversifying knowledge base. The committee has largely ignored traditional issues of assembling and stewardship of those collections, which are being handled well, for the most part, by the existing distributed digital library.
The committee envisions its target digital library users to be working research mathematicians and advanced graduate students beginning their research careers throughout the world (hence the word global). The library discussed does not specifically target students below the advanced graduate student level or researchers outside of mathematics, although both sets would likely constitute some of the library’s user base. Having a clear understanding of the target user base directly impacts the types of content the library targets and the types of services it provides. The committee also believes that the disciplinary scope of the mathematics that this library could provide is best left undefined for now. Mathematics and the mathematical sciences have diffuse boundaries, and this committee takes no stance on where appropriate content lies. However, this is an issue that will have to be addressed by either a future management organization or the community of users.